Mr. Holmes (directed Bill Condon) 2015

with Ian McKellen, Milo Parker, Laura Linney.

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Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is 93 and living far from 221 B Baker Street, in the countryside of Sussex, having retired 37 years ago.  The mystery for the viewer is why the most famous detective would stop doing what he does best.  Thereby hangs a tale that Dr. Watson would not have told in quite this way, with lots of sentiment.

The plot hinges on the developing relationship between old Mr. Holmes and Roger (Milo Parker), a young boy living with his mother, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) who is Holmes’ housekeeper.  Roger is interested in Holmes’ attempt to write a story of his own.  Holmes  struggles to recall an important incident from his past.  His physician stops by at regular intervals to check on his health, and when Holmes remarks that he worries about his memory, Dr. gives him a journal and tells him to mark a circle on every day he cannot recall something.  Weeks later when the doctor checks the journal, it is very sad to see the many circles, expressing their importance in shading and size.

What keeps Holmes together is his beekeeping.  Roger is eager to spend time with the old gentleman, so he becomes a kind of apprentice.  As a result of their time together, Sherlock’s memory slowly dislodges the lost bits he has been needing to finish his bit of “fiction,” and reveals a story centered on a mourning mother, a glass harmonica, and a clueless husband.

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You can rely on McKellen for expert acting, with his sly eyes and physical grace.  His scenes with the boy and with his female client in flashback are very good.  Roger’s mother is worried that she is losing her son to this stranger, and at one point almost finds a way to leave her job.  Laura Linney as the mother exerts a steely edged authority.

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I only wish they hadn’t put on quite so much makeup on Ian McKellen in order to distinguish his age thirty years ago and his 93 year old self.  It is distracting when the actor’s face not only has pasted on wrinkles, but a skin color so much darker than anyone else’s you wonder about his sun exposure.

Still, the story is well told, and has complexity and warmth of feeling.  Just when you feel it is about to go too dark, it pulls back and holds you in its warm embrace.

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About Patricia Markert

Moviegoer.
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